Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guess how long I took to teach Othello to my Year 13s this year? "Have a guess! Go on, have a guess! Just guess!!"/Derived grades can't fix this baby.

Whew! After my last blog post where I laid out my case for a new national holiday for New Zealanders (preferably somewhere in the area of term three), I must admit that the three snow days we had here in Christchurch were really not a good thing. It was quite good timing in one respect; I had family staying with me and it meant I could spend some quality time with them. In terms of teaching and learning, though, it was just another blow to an already beaten-up, lying-on-the-floor-whimpering year. Consequently, I’ve had to teach Othello in four and a half weeks; specifically, I’ve had to teach Othello in 16-and-a-half hours, now that we are down to five 45 minute periods a week for Year 13s. Funnily enough, I don’t think I taught it very well (although the discovery of an unabridged radio version with exciting, over-the-top sound effects was a real life-saver) and I am vaguely confident my class will be able to answer one of the essay questions in the practice exam next week.

Preparing students for national assessments is stressful at the best of times, but these practice exams are more important than any other practice exams have ever been for Christchurch students. This is because the students’ results are going to be used to produce ‘derived grades’, which is NZQA’s solution to the ‘earthquake affected schools’ issue. So, my students now have to do well in the practice exams AND in the final exams (as opposed to bumming around before the practice exams and then pulling finger just before the finals…). Well, actually, they just have to have a good bash at every paper in both exams to qualify – to get the credits for their papers they have to pass them in at least one of the exams. Then, the best grade for each paper out of the two exams will be used as their final grade (just FYI, my Year 12s and 13s have to complete four papers in three hours, which is a mission even when you have had an uninterrupted year of school). So, this is how it works: if a student gains a Merit in the practice exam for their Othello essay, but only Achieves in the final exam, then ‘Merit’ is their official NCEA mark. Alternatively, if they do not Achieve their essay in the practice exam but then Achieve in the final exam, then ‘Achieved’ is their official NCEA mark.

Initially, the kids were all, “SWEET!!!” and us teachers were all, “well, at least NZQA have given us all something to work with.” But then we all realised that actually, it’s not that sweet because the students now have really meaningful exams in less than five weeks and they are just a tad (*ahem*, just a tad = woefully) under-prepared. It also occurred to us that if there is (yet another) massive quake during the final exams then the students’ practice exam results will count as their final grades. Hmmmm…yeah...

So, it’s been freaking mental these past five weeks. All I can do now is cross my fingers and hope like hell that my students both study and attempt all the papers…and that there isn’t some brain-munting shake at 3:30am the night before the English exams…

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